Xanax is an anti-anxiety prescription medication that, when used long-term, can lead to unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. Sometimes, people abuse Xanax to self-medicate when symptoms worsen, or for conditions not indicated initially. Others use it illicitly for the relaxing and euphoric high it can induce.
How Xanax Affects the Brain and Body
Xanax (alprazolam) is one of many medications known as benzodiazepines (benzos). Like all the drugs in this category, Xanax helps to reduce the transmission of messages in the brain. Because of this action, it promotes a sense of relaxation and sedation. For this reason, it is often prescribed for conditions such as the following:
- Anxiety disorders
- Panic disorder
Unfortunately, its sedative qualities—as well as other actions related to Xanax in the body—can result in unexpected side effects, particularly if the drug is being abused.
Short-Term Physical Side Effects
Side effects can vary in severity from mild to severe and will be a bit different for everyone. They may include the following:
- Impaired coordination
- Slowed or difficult breathing
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Stuffy nose
- Blurred vision
- Upset stomach
- Abnormal bowel movements
- Edema in hands or feet
- Excessive sweating
Psychological Effects of Xanax Use
As noted, Xanax works to slow message transmission in the brain and induce calmness. It accomplishes this by boosting the availability of a chemical known as GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid), which intervenes with other neurochemicals traveling through the brain. For this reason, the drug may also cause mental side effects, some of which can impair an individual’s ability to function normally.
These include the following:
- Irritability and fatigue
- Sleep disturbances
- Impaired concentration
- Memory loss or difficulties
- Chemical dependence
How Long-Term Side Effects of Xanax Progress
Many of the symptoms mentioned above can become more severe as a result of the long-term use of Xanax. One of the more common issues is related to a heightened risk of developing dementia. Recent studies have shown that those who use benzodiazepines like Xanax on a chronic basis have a higher risk of developing dementia-related illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, than those who do not.
Other long-term issues may include the following:
- Heart damage
- Irregular heartbeat
- Hypoxic brain damage
- Swelling in extremities
Because of the problems that can onset with the long-term use of Xanax, it is often recommended this drug is not taken for longer than six weeks.
Xanax Abuse and Dependence
Xanax abuse can quickly result in the development of dependence. This can happen because, over time, the user’s tolerance will begin to increase—a condition in which the body becomes accustomed to the drug, and the effects diminish as a result. Tolerance often drives the person to use increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired results.
This type of abuse can cause an individual’s system to reach a point where it can no longer function correctly without the drug’s presence. This is known as physical dependence and results in withdrawal symptoms when the person attempts to quit or drastically cut back. Physical dependence is one of the stages of addiction. When the individual also develops a psycho-emotional dependence, and drug use becomes uncontrollable, full-blown addiction has developed.
Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
Stopping use of the drug suddenly can induce several adverse withdrawal symptoms, including the following:
- Seizures and tremors
- Suicidal thoughts
Is the Damage Reversible?
Most long-term effects of Xanax may be reversible upon discontinuation of the use of the drug, but others may not. For instance, chronic use can lead to memory impairment and dementia—mental health disorders that may be impossible to reverse. Conversely, some physical side effects, including heart palpitations and edema, may return to normal after the use of the medication has been stopped.
Treating Xanax Abuse and Addiction
Xanax withdrawal can be hazardous and even deadly. People who regularly misuse or are addicted to Xanax should consult a doctor or addiction specialist and inquire about a taper method—a process commonly used by medical providers to safely wean a person off the medication and avoid severe side effects.
Following a weaning or medical detox, individuals should immediately transition to a comprehensive addiction treatment program for long-term therapy, family counseling, and peer support.
With these and other treatments, people can learn to reclaim their lives without the use or misuse of Xanax or other drugs or alcohol, avoid relapse, and experience the happiness and well-being that they deserve! We can help—please call us today!